I was ready for a disappointment when I sat down to watch Who do you think you are? featuring David Tennant last night on BBC1. "Scotsman finds he is descended from Scots and a bit of Irish" didn't seem to promise a rip-roaring programme.
However, the whole thing was unexpectedly fascinating. It was fascinating to hear that David Tennant is actually David MacDonald and chose his surname, as a sixteen year old aspiring actor, from the pages of Smash Hits magazine. Yes, he named himself after the bloke in the Pet Shop Boys!
It was when he travelled to Ireland in search of his mother's ancestors that it got interesting. His grandfather was a popular football player for Derry City FC whose season scoring record still stands. His grandmother was a local beauty queen. One of his ancestors, James, was a Unionist Councillor in the same city who "was involved in the vote-rigging which maintained control of the council for the Protestant minority. Yet James also fought for social justice, and one of his daughters married a Catholic lad. His descendants were caught up in the Bloody Sunday march in 1972, the catalyst for the Troubles that have gripped the province ever since."
First of all we saw Tennant, a self-professed "Guardian-reading liberal" coming to terms with holding the Orange sash of his ancestor. Then he was delighted to hear of James' fight for better conditions for the poor. Then Tennant seemed more at ease to talk to his cousin who was a peaceful marcher in the Bloody Sunday protest.
Tennant's family history covered quite a kaleidoscope of Irish history.